Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stressing the point

Many of us have just finished celebrating Caffeine Appreciation Week, otherwise known as finals week. It's the week when our friends find us drooling on top of textbooks at the library and Grey and his anatomy are no longer a priority. It's a unique experience for every student, but the one word that can most accurately sum up this week of macchiato-powered nights is stress. A stress is any physical, psychological, or emotional force that impinges on a person. Although we generally take it to be a bad thing, some stress can be positive- like the kind that keeps our body alert and prepared for danger. Stress becomes harmful when our lives turn into an endless series of challenges from which we have no relief and this is often the case for many of us in college. But students are not the only ones under this tension. In fact, most adults are under more stress more often because of their routine jobs and responsibilities. This type of stress and its persistence is becoming an increasing medical concern for our generation.

Stress is like the gateway drug of illnesses. It is the #1 killer today because it increases susceptibility to life-threatening disorders such as heart disease, high blood pressure, eating disorders, and diabetes. In fact, 90% of all primary care visits today are related to stress-linked complaints or illness. The most prevalent causes of stress are fear and lack of control. Uncertainty of what's going to happen and the inability to do something about it often drives people to become restless and uneasy, going so far as to cause severe emotional and behavioral disorders. However, this type of fear is not rational.

It is true that we must do our part in working towards what we want, but, as humans, we only have so much control over the situations in our lives. According to the teachings of the Qur'an, Muslims are encouraged to do everything they can to the best of their abilities and to then put their faith and trust in Allah to take care of the rest. Muslims ask Allah 17 times a day in prayer for this type of help.

"it is only You that we worship and only Your help do we seek."(1:4)

Although it doesn't come across in English, the Arabic word translated as "help" implies that the person asking for help has already taken substantial action towards the final goal and is now looking to Allah to help him/her complete the task. When faced with problems in our fast-paced, modern lives we often mistake our powerlessness for failure. We forget that we do not control all the variables of the world. While no one is immune to stress, some are better able to handle it than others. Remembering that Allah is in complete control gives us the strength to remain patient in the face of difficulty and protect ourselves from the negative effects of stress that can put our lives in jeopardy.*

I repeatedly find that people facing hardships will say that God hates them. But these afflictions that we must often endure are tests of our patience and expiation of our sins. Allah says in the Qur'an:

"Be sure We will test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives, but give glad tidings to those who are steadfast, who say when afflicted with calamity: To Allah we belong and to Him is our return. They are those on whom blessings descend from Allah and mercy and they are the ones that receive guidance." (2:155-157)

Allah blesses those who remain faithful to Him even when they have lost so much. Medical studies show that observant Muslims are less likely to develop stress-related heart conditions because of their consistency in praying and fasting. It is easy to forget Allah when we are stressed out and panicked, but it is in these times that we should remember Him most. Whether things go the way we hope or not, everything happens according to Allah's plan and only He knows what is best for us. Islam's comprehensive way of living is the prescription for a stress-free life.

*The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) explained "The affair of the believer is amazing. The whole of his life is beneficial, and that is only in the case of the believer. When good times come to him, he is thankful and it is good for him, and when bad times befall him, he is patient and it is also good for him." [Saheeh Muslim]